29th Sep 2012 4:09pm | By Simon Cole
Inside a gloomy cathedral-like space, huge concrete pillars stretch up to a distant ceiling as a crowd of hardcore party animals dance wildly to yet another bass drop in the ‘capital of techno’.
The music is industrial and relentless, but the crowd are loving it. Hands in the air, they’re lost in this nocturnal world of shadows and big beats. This is Berghain.
It’s hard to believe that outside, shoppers are mooching around the Ostbahnhof flea market in the Sunday afternoon Berlin sunshine.
It might be the day of rest, but Saturday night’s party is still going on for the Berghain faithful, whose ethos is go hard, go long, or go home.
This city’s techno scene is world-famous, and Berghain is the leader of a pack of hardcore dance clubs serving up epic sessions that start after midnight and often continue until well past 6am the next day.
Tresor, Golden Gate, Watergate and – for those with the stamina to party on through the following afternoon – Club der Visionaere are just a few of the venues in Berlin that, when it comes to serious clubbing, take no prisoners.
About 12 hours earlier, at 1am, I’m queuing outside the imposing grey monolith, anxiously watching as countless others are turned away.
Berghain is as renowned for its sex ‘n’ drugs-related debauchery as its techno scene, and there can’t be a club on Earth with a tougher door policy.
“No photos!” is the command when they suss I’m not local. This rule is absolute: part of the mystique and a way of protecting privacy in an ‘anything goes’ sanctuary.
Relieved to have passed the unspoken entry criteria, I nod obediently, pay my £10 and the giant bouncer thumps a big stamp on my forearm. I’m in.
I climb the stairs to the main dancefloor and see two men in the shadows below immediately disappear into a pitch-black ‘playroom’. Things happen fast in here.
The main dancefloor is packed and I feel my whole body vibrating with the insistent, abrasive electronic sound of industrial techno. It’s very, very loud.
The crowd is predominantly gay and already many are shirtless; but all ages and orientations are represented in true rainbow Berlin style.
Corridors lead to dark, smoke-filled rooms with couches where, after daybreak, the coloured light filtering through stained glass will be the only reminder that an outside world still exists.
Heading upstairs past heavy iron girders and old machinery (the building used to be a power station in 1950s Communist-controlled Berlin), I arrive at the top floor – the ‘Panorama bar’ – where everyone is high on house beats and various pharmaceuticals.
Most are here to dance, but in unlit cubby holes, couples are getting intimate. One 26-year-old Berliner, Antonia, is taking a rest under a giant picture of a man showing off his anus.
A regular, she still can’t figure out the unwritten rules for getting into this iconic otherworld.
“I’ve seen 15 people in front of me get turned back at a time. The best thing is to come in ones or twos, but no one can say what the policy is,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.
A shirtless guy with a pierced lip and a ripped torso leans over to tell us that confidence and “not dressing up” is key. Hence his barely getting dressed at all.